Art Therapy in Pittsburgh Public Schools

My project consisted of two trips to two different public high schools in the greater Pittsburgh area, I would provide tools to learn about the benefits of art therapy and we would engage in a couple activities while addressing the usefulness of the practice in various circumstances.

I attended Pittsburgh Allderdice for high school and experienced a severe lack of healthy-lifestyle rhetoric. Pittsburgh Public school do a poor job of addressing and treating mental health issues. Luckily, there are a handful of student groups, like at CAPA (Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School) and less-so in Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, who feel strongly about bringing it to the surface and facing the difficulties of its discourse. I have experience using art therapy to treat various destructive mental health issues (from high school), and I have used its ideology to carry me through the healing process to this day. I feel that there are many extremely useful and versatile skills to be learned with art therapy. Providing the terms, encouragement, and guidance to adopt art therapy as a tool for stress-relief, healing from trauma, interpersonal conflict, and mindless/mindful fun is extremely beneficial to a group of caring and passionate students. I chose the Black Student Union because I have connections to the people with roles of leadership in both schools, we have similar points of view regarding self-care and the importance of individual agency, and because students of color, especially, are prone to mental health issues due to their constant exposure to racially themed stressors.

The energy you bring to a space of requested vulnerability is very important and unfortunately, I was ill the day I went to Allderdice, so I was disappointed in my performance that day. We did a few warm up exercises and talked about their fleeting benefits, then we moved into a more participatory workshop. First, we drew in the dark, and then began drawing on one paper, passing it, adding to the next, and so forth. We shared how doing these activities made us feel, some thoughts we experienced that we hadn’t noticed before, and a situation in our personal lives where art therapy would help. Not everyone shared, but those who did, could clearly see a positive impact in taking the time to silently analyze how they felt, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and abstractly. I wish I had incorporated more themes of race in my activities, given I had involved such a racially conscious group.

CAPA carries an extremely creative student body, and I believe I got the opportunity to work with some of the most passionate young adults there. Their energy the minute I walked in was exuberant in a rather humble way, they made me feel welcome without saying much to me at all. Suhail, the person that I first reached out to felt strongly about intertwining race into our activities. We made a schedule that incorporated a couple art therapy warm ups after five minutes of deep breathing. Following that we did a movement exercise that Suhail had previously planned and finally we made a collaborative mural-esque poster depicting what race feels like to us. During and after these exercises we talked in a refreshingly informal way about the parallels between the activities and the ways in which we address problems in our personal and academic lives. I think I made an effective interjection from an art therapy point of view as a guest in their extremely involved club, that provided a new lens to addressing and coping with racially centric issues of these students’ lives.


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